UT ex Kelli Kuehne has type 1 diabetes but stays on course in LPGA by listening to her body
Kelli Kuehne was diagnosed with diabetes long before she took up golfing. Now the former University of Texas All-American makes a living firing golf balls down the course. In her 11 years on the LPGA tour, she’s recorded 26 top 10 finishes.
Fitness is crucial to her career. It’s also critical to managing her disease.
But like the 25 million other Americans — more than 7 percent of our population — who have diabetes, she has to be careful about how and when she exercises, and how she fuels those workouts.
“There’s no reason being diabetic can stop you from doing what you want to do,” Kuehne says. First, some background. Most of the food we eat is broken down into glucose, a form of sugar used as energy. The body needs insulin to absorb that glucose, and lower the blood sugar level. People with diabetes have high blood sugar because their bodies either don’t make enough insulin or their cells don’t respond to the insulin their body makes.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to control the disease, says Dr. Elena Arizmendez, president of the board of the Central Texas chapter of the American Diabetes Association.
“Exercise is wonderful because it can reduce your need for blood pressure medication or insulin or oral medications, but you have to be cautious,” says Arizmendez, who treats patients at Health South Rehabilita- tion Hospital of Austin.
Kuehne, 33, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes — her body can’t produce insulin — at age 10. She was always active, playing sports as a child and golfing for UT from 1995 to 1997. Today she splits her time between Austin and Salt Lake City, and travels the country competing in golf tournaments.
During college and into her pro career, Kuehne has worked closely with Tina Bonci, co-director of the athletic training department at UT. Bonci also has diabetes, and helped Kuehne learn how different foods affect the way she feels on the course. She also learned to feel when her blood sugar was high or low.
‘I don’t use diabetes as an excuse or reason I’m not successful at something. There definitely are challenges, but it’s about getting educated, promoting awareness and understanding the disease.’
to control the hypoglycemia. Even better, Arizmendez says, learn how exercise affects your blood sugar levels so you don’t need to consume empty calories.
Lean meats and complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat bread and brown rice make good fuel. Avoid soda and too much fruit juice, unless you are hypoglycemic. “Hydrate with water, water, water,” Arizmendez says. After exercising, eat a little complex carbohydrate and protein. Oatmeal and a few nuts or a small piece of baked chicken and wild rice are good choices.
“Make a plan,” Arizmendez says. “Don’t try
To stay in shape, Kuehne works out on an elliptical trainer, spins on a stationary bicycle and runs. She also does core-strengthening work. Depending on her playing schedule, the workouts last from 30 to 90 minutes.
Before exercising, she checks her blood sugar and eats an energy bar (she likes lowcarb bars like PowerBar’s Nut Natural, Pria Bar or Power Crunch Bar). Afterward, she checks her blood sugar again and eats a small meal.
In all, Kuehne tests her blood sugar three to eight times a day. She wears an insulin pump with a subcutaneous port at her waist that automatically gives her insulin when she needs it.
“When in doubt, check blood sugar,” Kuehne says.
She’s also conscious of what she eats. She tries to eat five small meals instead of three larger ones. Instead of drinking straight Gatorade, she mixes it with water. She avoids white flour, opting instead for whole grains, which are absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream. “Get educated. The more you know, the more equipped you are to handle it,” she says.
Arizmendez, the physician, recommends consulting a doctor before starting any exercise program.
For many diabetics, the main goal is to improve the ability to do daily tasks. Walking is a good place to start, she says. Ease into a new regimen slowly, with a goal of 20 to 30 minutes of exercise two or three times a week to get in shape.
For non-diabetics, a normal blood sugar level is between 70 and 100. That number is higher in diabetics.
As long as your blood sugar is below 200, it’s usually OK to exercise, Arizmendez says. If it’s above that, let it drop before exercising.
Arizmendez recommends checking blood sugar before, during and after exercise. If you don’t feel well at any point, stop and check your blood sugar. If it’s low, some diabetics eat a small piece of hard candy or sip juice to be perfect on day one. If you can’t find time to exercise, skip the elevator and take the stairs. Little things add up.”
The good news is that your fate is within your control, she says. “All you need is knowledge to take care of yourself. It’s up to you.”
That’s a lesson that Kuehne learned long ago.
“I don’t use diabetes as an excuse or reason I’m not successful at something,” she says. “There definitely are challenges, but it’s about getting educated, promoting awareness and understanding the disease.”
Like many people with diabetes, Kelli Kuehne plans her exercise around her blood sugar levels. The Longhorn and LPGA player tests her blood before and after she works out.
LPGA golfer Kelli Kuehne wears an insulin pump at her waist. To people who have diabetes and want to exercise, she says: ‘Get educated. The more you know, the more equipped you are to handle it.’